Hon. Tunde Olatunji is a lawmaker representing Ife North Local Government Area Osun State, South West, Nigeria. He is passionate about the country and believes the future of the country beongs to young demography. He sponsors an essay competition which calls for entries on the Post COVID 19 economy in Osun State, Nigeria. In an interview with Rasheed Adebiyi, he shared his mind on many issues of global and national importance. Here are the excerpts:
Tekedia: Tell us about yourself.
Olatunji:I am Babatunde ‘lekan Olatunji, a Legislator, a Teacher and a development economics Expert, with cognate experience in banking, finance, economy and business development. I am a professional in Politics and the Chief Whip of Osun State House of Assembly, Nigeria. I am a native of Edunabon in Ife North Local Government area of Osun State. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Masters Degree in Business Administration. My conviction in the capacity of the state to harmonise human and material resources for the wellbeing and security of all propelled my adventure in politics and the people of my constituency (Ife North) found me worthy and elected me as their common voice in the Parliament for the second term.
Tekedia: People have said a lot about the preventive measure many African countries, including Nigeria, are applying to the COVID 19 pandemic as being “cut and paste” which could not work in the context of our country. What do you say to this?
Olatunji: If I understand the question, you mean in terms of the preventive measure against COVID-19. Is there anything wrong with cut and paste approach to stop the spread of the virus here? Let’s first understand the universality of the human phenomenon as again proved by the scourge. Against the erroneous conception of some of our people around January and February that Corona virus was a white man thing, and that it could not survive in a temperate clime like ours, but with almost 3000 cases and about a 100 deaths in Nigeria, its crystal clear that this particular disease is a respecter of no colour, language or geography. It is trite that a universal problem also requires universal approach before you start domesticating such solutions as the situation demands. Let’s explore this universality further. From where it originated in China, social distancing, hand washing, staying indoors etc were some of the drastic measures adopted to curtail the spread and these have been adopted as global protocol by the WHO. Coming home, there is sufficient empirical accounts that these protocols imposed by the Nigeria government had curtailed community transmission. In our state here, all the 35 cases recorded so far were imported, first by a UK returnee, second by Abidjan returnees, again by returnees from Benin Republic, Lagos and Ibadan. Again, significant success has been recorded in the clinical management of those who tested positive to the virus. As we speak, over 400 patients have been treated nationwide. Here in Osun, 30 of the 35 patients have been certified well and ok, while 3 are recuperating with only 2 fatalities. So it’s derogatory to describe the current approach at managing this gobal emergency as cut and paste.
Tekedia: You are already looking beyond this pandemic judging by your recent sponsorship of an essay competition looking at Osun Post COVID 19 Economic Recovery. What gives you the confidence? Why the essay now that the curve is refusing to flatten?
Olatunji: You mean confidence that we shall recover from this? I’m incurably optimistic that mankind will come out of this victorious. Has there been any problem that consumed mankind? None so far and definitely not Corona Virus. Recall, part of the global community was faced with similar challenge in 1918, those places are still around today. Malaria, Tuberculosis etc had previously threatened human existence, despite the fact that they are still with us, they are no more threat to mankind today, even in our clime with relative low medical technical capacity. Mankind survived world war one and two with their attendant health emergencies. The current incident will sure become history. Every problem offers its own solution. If there is no problem, there will never be solution.
Why the essay when the curve has not flattened? We are facing a dual socio economic challenge, while the curative measure is already being worked on, measures to address the economy must also be invented pari pasu. I hold a strong belief that both solutions can come within. I’m equally sure that among our young scholars can evolve the postulations to address the post COVID-19 economic challenge, but if we fail to coordinate these efforts, we may be throwing the solutions into the wind. The current drug, ‘Remidev’ that just got approved to fight COVID-19 in US was developed in part by a Nigerian from my constituency – Dr. Babalola Taiwo. So I am convinced that such capacity lay within us. This is the driving force of this Essay Competition that will also assist the Governor Gboyega Oyetola led administration in Osun State to deepen its leverage on the creative capacity of the youths. I’m careful with the participating demography, limiting it to Osun indigenes or residents in tertiary institutions.
Tekedia : What is your assessment of governmental response to the pandemic at both the national and sub national levels?
Olatunji: Both the Federal and State governments have responded impressively well, most especially the South West governments. Immediately the index case of the Italian man was reported in Lagos, Osun state government put up a high powered inter ministerial committee to monitor the development. This was the similar response of governments across the South West States. This proactive measure resulted in the control of community transmission so far, save in Lagos that is the epicenter, understandably for his population and being a gate way city, both in terms of land, sea and air. The Federal Government too responded swiftly like a big brother, though it’s been argued in some quarters that closure of the borders was a bit delayed degenerating in increased internationally imported cases.
Tekedia:As a political office holder, what lessons do you think the Nigerian political leadership should learn from this pandemic?
Olatunji: Not only Nigerian political leadership, but the citizens as well. We have erroneously extricated the citizens from some fundamental responsibilities, placing them in a situation of entitlement always. The media must help perpetuate a new culture of responsible citizenship/followership as panacea to quality leadership. That said. The major lessons learnt are as follows. The preservation of life is fundamental, hence, a functional economy and healthcare system are sine qua non to attaining this status. We must improve our funding to the health sector via the immediate enforcement of the National Health Act, 2015. This legislation addresses holistically the key issues in achieving a Medicare that truly support preservation of life. More importantly, the crusade for diversification of our economy should transcend rhetorics. Can you imagine if we still import rice, beans and some consumables now when all international borders are shut? The consequence would be worse than Tsunami. So the closure of borders by the Federal government prior this period to stimulate local production has proved a right policy with the ravaging noble COVID-19. All those who hitherto shouted hoax that they would die if borders were not open, where are they now? So government must take decisive and tough decisions to improve our local productive capacity. The critical infrastructure must be sincerely and incorrigibly upgraded now, most importantly power and roads. Our budgets must now be designed that capital expenditure will outweigh recurrent expenditure. Government size must be modest, ditto cost of running it. The Oransaye report must be implemented now without much ado.
Olatunji: One constituency you seem to be at home with is the youth and young demographics. Post COVID 19, what is your advice for this set of people in the times ahead?
I’m an unrepentant advocate that the transformation of any society lays with the youth of such society. History has convincingly demonstrated that this demography that occupies no less than 65% of our total population holds the ace to any serious change. Across the globe, every invention and innovation recorded in human history was pioneered by young people between 18-45. Examples abound in this contemporary period. Post COVID-19 era, I charge the Nigerian youth to provide informed leadership in all sectors, they must display capacity for innovations to solve problems. The world needs problems solvers. I must acknowledge that some of our young people are doing impressively well, but much needs to be done. The challenge of our present youthful generation are false consciousness, docility, complacency and despondency. Let them be the solutions they crave for, a solution substantive for foreign exchange.
Tekedia: The price of crude oil has been on its way down since the global outbreak of COVID 19. What does the future hold for Nigeria and the alternatives to the country whose economic mainstay is oil?
Olatunji: Remove COVID-19, imminently, oil price will not eternally remain high. Oil itself will someday soon lose its value as a major product governing world economy. The signs are already manifesting. The global community is agitating for an alternative to petroleum as a major source of energy for its obvious threat to the eco system. Cars and machines are running on solar and other renewable energy are being developed, other forms of potable energy are emerging everywhere, so our failure to judiciously utilise our oil proceeds since 1957, as done by our middle East counterparts is indeed a time bomb. Alternatives are already available, the indolence pervading our system is the limiting factor, apart from Congo in Africa, I doubt if there is any nation as endowed as we are. My state alone is sitting atop billions of dollars worth of raw Gold, but we still suffer because of the constitutional bottle neck against full realisation of mining potentials in Nigeria. Our land is also 100% arable. Well, the inevitable season of our compulsory adjustment is here, I hope we won’t wait till the time we hit zero allocation on oil, before all of us get to think or do the right thing. In conclusion, the future is bright for Nigeria, because God has already taken care of us, we only need to take painful decisions. Let me end this with the analogy of an intelligent student, he already has a bright future, but without thorough planning and hard work, such future can become dead on arrival.
Tekedia: Thank you for your time.
Olatunji : I thank you too.